It Hurts When I Do This

Aug 09 2011 Published by under grants and grant proposals

A reader writes:

It has now been three days since the proposal was submitted, and I have been reading and re-reading the submitted version, each time finding minor mistakes (a reference in the wrong place, a typo), or places where I could have clarified my thoughts a bit more. I think the science good but the proposal falls short of the shiny, glimmering, flawless piece of work I had been shooting for, and this is devastating.

In an attempt to pull myself out of the mental dungeon I am stuck in right now, I am writing to ask you and your readers if you have experienced similar post-submission agony? And for those of you who have served as proposal reviewers or program officers, how do minor editorial mishaps factor into the overall review?

First of all, don't do that: don't re-read your proposal so soon after submission. I never do that. It serves no good purpose. It can be very useful (and necessary) to re-read proposals later, when it is relevant to do so, but don't do it now. (Readers: agree/disagree with this advice?)

As a reviewer, minor writing/technical mistakes are inconsequential to me in my review. We all make mistakes: some typos, mis-numbered figures etc. If there are an astounding number of them, including in the project summary and the first few lines of the proposal, it makes me wonder what happened, but I give the PI the benefit of the doubt and assume that there was a lot of last-minute writing and not much last-minute editing. I am somewhat more annoyed if a senior PI makes these mistakes, but if I can still understand the proposal, I don't downgrade it for this type of flaw. That is, I don't assume that because the proposal is sloppy that the science will be sloppy, unless I have other information/evidence to support that conclusion. (Readers: agree/disagree with that conclusion?)

It's fine to try for a flawless proposal and it's important to care about producing quality work, but don't beat yourself up about some minor and inadvertent errors. Maybe you will get the grant anyway, but if not -- and if it is reasonable to revise and resubmit -- focus on the constructive work of writing a (more) compelling proposal.

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